Byzanz und das Abendland III. Studia Byzantino-Occidentalia. 2015, 67-83
This paper reviews artefacts from monastic dwellings in Western Thebes, Upper Egypt, that transmit forms and variations of the alphabet, in an attempt to contribute to an ongoing scholarly discussion about the forms, aims and target audience of the educational activities in monastic communities of the area between the sixth and the eighth century. At that time the pharaonic necropolis became the hub of an intensive Christian monastic culture that made an indelible contribution to later perceptions of Egyptian monasticism, which the “Thebaid” became the imaginary landscape of. In the arid and, one might be tempted to say, “godless” landscape of the real Thebaid the Christian monks and hermits occupied the mortuary temples and the tombs of the royals and other eminencies of the pharaonic period, and redeveloped them into clusters of cells or individual hermits’ habitations. The nearest residential centre was the town of (D)jeme/Medinet Habu that developed on top of and around the mortuary temple of Ramesses III. Important monastic complexes in the area were:
- Farthest to the north, on the hill Dra’ Abu el-Naga, the Deir el-Bachit (now finally identified with the topos of apa Paulos), the most extensive and populous of the monastic clusters in the area.
- The monastery of St. Phoibammon/ Deir el-Bahari, which developed within the mortuary temple of the queen Hatshepsut.
- This monastery probably traces its origins to a monastic settlement located at a spot that is accessible with difficulty up on the hills between Djeme and Ermant (Hermonthis), known as “le petit St. Phoibammon” (the lesser St. Phoibammon).
- Several hermitages and clusters of hermitages on and around the hill of Sheikh Abd’ el-Gurneh. For a long time the best documented one was the Monastery of Epiphanius (TT103 tomb of vizier Daga, XI dynasty). Recently some of the neighbouring hermitages, e.g. the monastery of Cyriacus (TT65) and the hermitage occupied by Frange (TT29), were excavated, and are being studied in greater detail.
The textual finds, mostly Christian literature of various genres and documentary texts in abundance, suggest that the dominant language was Egyptian (its written form at that time being Coptic), while Greek had a more modest and gradually waning presence and was probably read only by the more educated ascetics.